August Skies

“Heaven wheels above you displaying to you her eternal glories … and still your eyes are on the ground.” — Dante

The planet Mercury is positioned between the sun and Earth during August and cannot be viewed because of the solar glare. However, with binoculars or a small telescope it may be possible to carefully glimpse the little planet during the couple of minutes of totality on the day of the total solar eclipse, Aug. 21.

Venus rises in the east about three hours before the sun. Acting as the “morning star”, its -4.0 magnitude brilliance makes it hard to miss in the morning twilight. A telescope reveals it as a small gibbous disk. During the eclipse totality, it will be quite easy to glimpse bright Venus on the right side of the sun.

Mars is behind the sun in relation to Earth and is lost in the solar glare during this month. During the short period of totality while the sun is being eclipsed by the moon, it should be possible to spot Mars about 8 degrees to the right of the sun.

Look for bright Jupiter to the upper left of Mercury during evening twilight, shining low in the west-southwest. The giant planet will sink lower in the sky each night during August.

The beautiful planet Saturn is easy to find this month since it’s the brightest point of light in the southern sky at dusk. Its rings are currently tipped 27 degrees to our line of sight, an incredible sight in a small telescope. The dark gap between the brighter, broader B ring and the outer A ring is easily viewed now.

Warning! The solar eclipse on Aug. 21 will only be a partial eclipse in this region, not a total solar eclipse. At no time during the event will it be safe to look at the sun from this area without proper safety equipment.

Editor’s note: This monthly guide to the stars is from the Marshall Martz Memorial Astronomical Association and the Post-Journal and OBSERVER. For further information, contact the M.M.M.A.A. at